Police commission votes against covering officer’s legal fees in lawsuit involving former chief’s wife


Should Oahu taxpayers pay the legal fees for two Honolulu police officers implicated in conspiracy allegations against the wife of former police chief Louis Kealoha?

The Honolulu Police Commission decided against the idea Wednesday, at least for one of the officers.

Ming Hung Nguyen and Daniel Sellers are defendants in a lawsuit filed by Gerard Puana. Puana alleges that he was framed by officers and his niece, Katherine Kealoha, the former chief’s wife and a deputy prosecutor.

The city argued that the officers were not officially on duty when the alleged frame-up occurred, so taxpayers should not pay for their legal fees.

“Based on the information provided, the alleged conduct appears to have served Mr. Nguyen’s personal interest and therefore was not performed in his official capacity as a police officer,” said Leslie Chin, City Corporation Counsel. “Furthermore, based on the information provided, the alleged unlawful entry into the plaintiff’s residence constitutes unlawful action, and was not within the course or scope of Mr. Nguyen’s employment.”

Ngyuen’s attorney, however, told the commission that’s not true.

Randall Hironaka said officers can “be on duty yet alleged in a civil or criminal complaint such as this one, and be covered by the city under 52D-8 and 52D-9. This commission, respectfully, and city, should want Officer Nguyen to have counsel, especially for cases like this where there are allegations, but more specifically, they’re required to provide that when there’s allegations that he’s doing that in the performance of his duties.”

After a lengthy discussion, the commission voted 4-2 not to cover Nguyen’s legal fees. Commissioners Loretta Sheehan and Steven Levinson were the two votes in favor.

The commission has yet to decide on Sellers’ case.

There was a lot of discussion on whether the commission should discuss the issue in public.

At first the commission voted to have a closed hearing, but after two commissioners threatened not to participate, the discussion was done in the open.

That debate took up a significant portion of Wednesday’s meeting, prompting Sellers’ attorney to request that his client’s matter be continued.

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